Warren Austin

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(HOST) President Bush’s recent appointment of John Bolton as Ambassador to the UN caused commentator Peter Gilbert to recall America’s first Ambassador to the UN — who hailed from Vermont.

(GILBERT) The full title is actually – are you ready – Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations. America’s first such person was Warren R. Austin.

Born in Highgate Center, Vermont in 1877 and educated at UVM, Warren Austin was a distinguished lawyer. He was elected to the US Senate in 1931 in a special election called after the death of Senator Frank Lester Greene. He was a staunch domestic conservative, strongly (and increasingly) anti-Communist, but not an isolationist. According to State Senator Bill Doyle, Senator Austin wrote the plank in the 1944 Republican Convention platform calling for international cooperation in winning the peace. Austin felt that “an international organization based on the principle of cooperation contained ‘the greatest hope for security and peace we ever had.'”

A Republican, he was named Ambassador by President Harry Truman, a Democrat. He served as UN Ambassador from 1947 to early 1953, when he retired to Burlington. He died in 1962 at the age of 85.

The post war years when he was UN Ambassador were challenging times – for the fledgling UN and around the world. For example, in 1947 the UN considered partitioning Palestine to separate Jews and Arabs. And India and Pakistan were partitioned – resulting in a religious bloodbath.

In 1948, there was a Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the Soviets blockaded Berlin, thus precipitating the Berlin Airlift, and the US Congress passed the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. In 1949, the North American Treaty Organization was established, Israel was admitted to the UN, Mao Tse-tung established the People’s Republic of China, and Chiang Kai-shek fled to Formosa. In 1950, Communist China occupied Tibet and North Korean forces invaded South Korea, two crises quickly taken up by the UN.

Speaking at the New York Council on World Affairs in Buffalo in 1951, Ambassador Austin said, “Maintaining the peace is the business of all peoples. We have no instrumentality through which to work directly other than the United Nations. The relatively few persons who represent you therein need your vigor and strength in striving for the perfecting of the organization.”

His dedication to the hard work that peace requires was profound, as was his love for his home state. He wrote to a young girl from Swanton, “I love Vermont because it was there I was born and . . . prepared . . . to humbly serve in the greatest cause mankind has ever known – in the relations of nations, to hasten the day when ‘men shall beat their swords into plowshares’ and live in security and peace.”

This is Peter Gilbert in Montpelier.

Peter Gilbert is the executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.

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